River gum canopy viewed from below
Case study /
Representing Australia

Julia: climate change negotiation

Linda Roche/DFAT

‘I feel incredibly lucky to be in my job, because I get to engage in a major global issue that we’re all facing’, says Julia Gardiner, Assistant Director at the Department of the Environment and Energy.

Julia grew up in Coen, in a remote part of North Queensland. After studying biology at university, Julia moved to California and cut her teeth in climate change policy with a non-profit organisation, The Nature Conservancy.

Australia and family called her home, and Julia took up a position at the Department of Climate Change, initially working in the area that calculates Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Because of the direct links of this work with international climate change policy, she got involved in international negotiations and hasn’t looked back.

Julia works closely with colleagues at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on climate change negotiations that take place under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. ‘When I started, the conversation was very much around the Kyoto Protocol’, Julia says. 'Then there was a stronger focus on what countries were going to do after 2020, and that’s when the Paris Agreement negotiations kicked off.'

Landing the Paris Agreement was just such an amazing moment.

Julia Gardiner headshot, leafy green background

Julia Gardiner. Image credit: Grace Williams/DFAT

Julia has travelled to Marrakesh, Paris and many other locations for negotiations, which usually run over a two week period. She sometimes works 16 hour days with international counterparts to reach agreement. ‘It’s a very complex environment’, Julia says. ‘It spans very detailed technical work, but it sits within this complex political and strategic environment.’ She describes a negotiation as a ‘weird combination of being incredibly interesting at the strategic and policy level but also incredibly incremental’.

Julia says Australians are known for their particular style during negotiations. ‘We are known for high quality preparedness and technical know-how and for being a pragmatic middle-road party, able to bridge differences between countries whose stances are further apart. We’re known for our brevity—able to come up with ‘that phrase’ just that short, beautiful use of words’. These words count. They help countries with different perspectives and interests find common ground. They guide effective action on climate change including helping the world shift to a lower-emissions growth model.

A highlight for Julia was the Paris Agreement negotiations in 2015. ‘We literally had US Secretary of State John Kerry on the phone to Obama. Landing the Paris Agreement was just such an amazing moment. I was just a tiny cog in the massive machinery that put that thing together, but to watch it get gavelled through, that was just incredible.'

For Julia, it’s satisfying and vital work. ‘I feel really strongly about the issue that I work on. At the same time, I get to work with a huge range of interesting, dedicated people, while trying to come up with a solution that works for over 190 countries spanning a broad range of issues.’